Dance and drawing workshops that really make their mark.

Starting the year talking about this wonderful dance project, led by Tanya Voges is  real treat for me.  It integrates so many of my personal and education interests, art, dance, and archaeology.   The workshop she has created is adaptable for many learning communities both in person and online.

Tanya Voges is an interdisciplinary artist who works with dance, mark making and performance drawing. I was fortunate to be able to talk with her about her project, Tracing the Anthropocene, part of an Artist in Residence project with the South Australian Museum.

Tracing the Anthropocene: Conversation with the artist

dance and drawing workshops

DTI : Please tell us about this amazing residency at the South Australian Museum. 

Tanya: Through funding from Arts South Australia and an initiative that arts organisation Guildhouse developed during the first part of the pandemic, I was one of the successful recipients of Tracing the Anthropocene. This is an artist in residence and public engagement opportunity to explore an area of the South Australian Museum (SAM) collection.

The idea was to develop an online workshop to connect people with the collection. Recently the film of the workshop sample was made available on the SAM website Home | SA Museum for individuals, school groups and families to connect with from their homes during their holidays, during times of isolation or to take into the classroom. It’s also screened on the museum’s front lawn regularly.

At the museum I was able to work with scientist Diego Garcia Belligo who specialises in the fossils of the Ediacaran Era. I had access to information about the museum’s collection which is the most extensive in the world.

Through the process I’ve also met with the Ediacarn Foundation  who campaigned with the SA government to dedicate a new national park, the Nilpena Ediacara National Park in the Flinders Ranges, which should open to the public in 2022.

I’ve always wanted to go to the area myself and see the fossils in situ and create a dance film there using all the movement research I have done. So that is in the pipeline for this year if I can secure funding!

Fossils, dance, and drawing

DTI: Have you always been interested in fossils or was this something that came from your interest in drawing and dance?

In my dance practice I’m interested in capturing trace – the ephemerality of dance is something that audiences often struggle to connect with. As artists we require witnesses to the dance we are doing, without anything tangible for the audience to take away.

I have been experimenting with dance and drawing, movements, and mark making ever since developing my own choreographic voice over the past decade. In the past I have collaborated with artists, scientists, and the audience to make work. I think my process is research based, so delving into the scientific papers and interpreting this information through movement is really engaging for me.

dance and drawing workshops

The commission was to create performances for the Gala event of The Waterhouse Prize in 2014 at SAM and I was introduced to the fossils of the Ediacaran Era. I felt an affinity to these soft bodied creatures representing the earliest life forms that moved- yet left us nothing more than a trace to find 550 million years later.

It’s from these traces, which are prolific in some areas of the Flinders Ranges and Kangaroo Island, that scientists have been able to unearth so much information. About an era of time and a step in the evolution of life on earth which we weren’t taught about in schools and is still not included in the current curriculum.

Here’s more information and videos of the performances for the Waterhouse Gala and process around Exploring Trace on my website.

Links between dance and drawing

DTI: How do you see the relationship between dance and drawing movement?

Marking marks extends the dance movements, captures the action in time, and draws the audience in. The expanded drawing practice makes the subject the dance is working with have a remnant that can be viewable at a time other than the moment of the performative act.

It is an ongoing exploration for me that has had outcomes as live performances, gallery works, dance films, and utilised with artists and dancers in workshop settings. This extends a gesture, it can make a picture, or leave an abstract mark that is evidence of the energy of the movement that was used to make it.

Choreography has always been something that I visualise as well as feel kinaesthetically, so the sketches of my early ideas of choreography have crossed over into the creative process and performance outcomes if the project fits with those materials.

DTI: Do you think this workshop is suitable for children? Could classroom teachers use these techniques with their own students?

I designed this workshop to be for people of all ages and have had grandparents attend with their grandchildren during school holiday workshops. I’ve also worked with practicing artists to introduce alternative ways of working with drawing techniques.

The virtual workshop is designed so that you can follow along, pausing it so that you don’t feel rushed while working with a partner, using drawing implements and large pieces of paper. I’d love to hear how people use this resource.

dance and drawing workshopsMaybe it’s using chalk out on the quadrangle, or driveway for those homeschooling, or with soft pastels on Tarkett if your studio will allow you the time and resource to wash it off afterwards!! I imagine it would be best if teachers went through the process with a friend or colleague before using the video in a large classroom setting.

There are also other resources to support you in exploring the Ediacaran Fossils through the associated pdf.

Creative processes during the development

DTI: When you were creating the workshops, what creative processes did you go through?

Developing workshops for people of all ages is an extension of my creative process in devising new dance works. Some years ago, I utilised tasks that I would do with dancers to make new choreography, with audiences to make a solo work participatory.

It was such a successful way of engaging audiences with contemporary dance, that I now question whether a live performance season or a workshop series is a more valuable outcome of a process in connecting with ‘audiences’.

With the restrictions we’ve had over the pandemic era there are challenges with being in the same physical space with people, so it is useful for me to have these tools where people can physically engage with the material through online content (live and recorded). I find that being a witness to a performance through a screen based medium is lacking in its ability to connect audiences like live performance does.

In this artist in residence, I worked with various materials to draw with- charcoal, pastels, graphite, posca paint pens, pencils- and large paper or canvas to encourage whole body movements. The fossils of the Ediacaran Era have left only traces of their symmetrical soft bodies, which would have been submerged in shallow mineral rich waters. I responded to these as imagined environments in which to move in, holding the drawing materials in different ways as I attempted to move in symmetrical ways.

I also worked with clay, which is a new medium for me. It allowed me to slow down my movements and connect with the earth, which I think are qualities that the first moving life forms embodied also.

Between lockdowns I was also recipient of an Artist Residency at Australian Dance Theatre where I worked with these processes with professional dancers and visual artists working towards making a work either for gallery or stage spaces. This influenced the workshops too. I delivered intergenerational workshops during the summer holidays in 2021 at the museum that were 1 hour long before working on the recordings of the sample workshop.

Accessible dance project online

DTI: Can you lead these workshops from online?

Yes, I’ve been one of those artists who has actually enjoyed using this medium to connect and lead workshops. Obviously, you can try the sample workshop on the South Australian Museum website, pause it to extend the experience and use the playlist of music as inspiration while the video is paused to work with a partner in the symmetry drawing, as that is what it’s designed for.

But the in person or online workshop experience I layer the workshop so that there are more education points about the fossils of the Ediacarn Era, and transpose elements from tracing, moving, drawing and dancing tailored to the experience level or interests of the participants.

Working with the artistic processes in the subject areas of science and history this workshop is able to be utilised for STEAM subjects for all age groups.

How do teachers contact you if they would like more information?

Thank you for the opportunity to connect with teachers through the Dance Teaching Ideas community. If anyone would like to reach me I can be contacted by email and my website and follow my creative processes via my Instagram profile @madebytanyavoges .


Tracing the Anthropocene virtual workshop -Ediacaran Fossils with Tanya Voges and Animating Birds with Susan Bruce:
Directly to the youtube video:
Article about The Nilpena Ediacara National Park:


Many thanks go to Tanya for her insights into this wonderful workshop and her creative process.

Please share this article with other teachers, there’s a good chance that it will help them in their classrooms.